Backup Johnson won't be shy
Rob Johnson will try to make some big plays in his first start for the Bucs.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Fall has taken grip of much of the nation in all its splendor, its arrival signaled by cooler temperatures, shorter days and leaves dropping like NFL quarterbacks.
Whether by injury or ineffectiveness, as many as 14 teams could have players under center today that did not start opening day.
The change of seasons might not be felt yet in Tampa Bay, but the climate is right for a new quarterback.
Rob Johnson will make his first start for the Bucs today against the Panthers.
"I'm going to try to take a little more chances," he said. "I'll try to make some scrambles and get out and try to make some big plays that way. But those are hit-and-miss sometimes."
That pretty much describes the career of the former Buffalo and Jacksonville quarterback as he prepares to take over for Brad Johnson, who could miss two weeks with fractured ribs.
Johnson & Johnson share little more than surnames when it comes to their playing styles.
Brad Johnson is known for his headiness and steadiness, but lacks mobility. Rob Johnson is one of the most gifted players at his position, but he rarely avoids sacks and turnovers.
"It's just that I don't like giving up on plays," Rob Johnson said. "And if guys are covered, I'd rather take my chances running the ball or seeing if I can get out and make a play that way. On third down, you're going to punt anyway, so you might as well try to get the first down.
"I know it looks bad sometimes, but if you can pick up one extra first down or one extra big play a game doing that, I think it's worth it. You have to pick and choose when you do it."
Bucs coach Jon Gruden chose Rob Johnson from a list of free agents believing he would be perfect for his West Coast system.
But he was wildly inconsistent in training camp and the preseason and slower than his veteran counterpart to pick up the new offense.
"The hardest part, and I think I've gotten a lot better, is the verbiage," Rob Johnson said. "You can know it on paper, but when you get in the huddle and say it, it's a lot different."
Rob Johnson has played little this season, but he said he has benefitted from watching from the sideline.
"Brad does a lot of stuff really well. I've learned some stuff from him," Rob Johnson said. "I threw a couple of balls away down in the red zone, which normally I'd probably try to make a play. If I'd have gotten a sack or something, then we wouldn't have had a chance for a touchdown. He does a good job of getting rid of the ball in the pocket and he always knows where the outlet receiver is.
"Obviously, I'm going to try and make plays, our offense has to make some plays and take some pressure off our defense. Our defense has been playing great ... But I'm not going to go in and try to win the game myself."
The Bucs are hoping Rob Johnson might ignite their offense, which ranks 24th in the NFL and averages 21.9 points.
Quarterback won't be the only position that will receive an infusion of new blood.
With receiver Keenan McCardell out with a fractured scapula, Joe Jurevicius will make his first start for Tampa Bay. Karl Williams and Reggie Barlow will alternate as the third receiver. The Bucs also will rely more on running back Aaron Stecker, who will take some attempts from starter Michael Pittman.
Gruden wouldn't say whether the Bucs would add wrinkles against Carolina, which boasts the NFL's fourth-ranked defense.
"I just think we've got to see how the game goes," Gruden said. "It's not just about Rob, it's about the offensive team, our ability to handle them up front. Can we pass protect? Are we running the football with any success? You know, I think Rob is capable of executing in this system with help around him. If we can convert some third downs, you might see some different things emphasized than maybe we had in the previous seven or eight ballgames. But it's not just on him. It's a collective show."
But what happens if Rob Johnson puts on a show? Can a player lose his job due to injury? Of course he can. Just ask Drew Bledsoe, who watched Tom Brady steal his job and lead New England to a Super Bowl XXXVII victory against the Rams a year ago.
"It's Brad's team," Rob Johnson said.
"When you're winning and Brad has been playing well, it's a lot easier than when you're losing and the other guy isn't playing well. I've been in that situation before, and that tries your patience."
Of course, Rob Johnson is no stranger to quarterback controversies, having been on both sides of one in Buffalo with Doug Flutie. According to receiver Keyshawn Johnson, a teammate of Rob Johnson's at Southern Cal, the Bucs free agent is better than advertised.
"I think his first three years, he was buried in Jacksonville behind Mark Brunell," Keyshawn Johnson said. "He came in, he played well, got traded to Buffalo. Here comes Little Corn Flakes. Little Corn Flake Flutie comes, he's the town hero, all 5-foot-7 of him. In Buffalo, the underdog city. Rob gets an opportunity to play. He gets hurt. Flutie comes in, scores against Jacksonville, runs around, makes some plays. Everybody is yelling, "Yeah!' So now they're all against Rob. Rob comes back, makes a few bad plays, makes a few good ones. Boo. So he's always in a battle there.
"Then, (the Bills) make a decision to go with the guy that has all the height, weight, size, speed, the arm strength and everything. But within that, they didn't evaluate the fact that he had no offensive line, his receiver, Eric Moulds, was hurt all the time. He really had no running back, no nothing. He's pretty much like a man that's lost out there. And he's hurt, he's back and forth, he's running for his life.
"Then all of a sudden, he tells them he's not taking a pay cut and they release him. Now everybody thinks he's not an NFL starting quarterback, which is (wrong) to me."
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